Flashlight by Susan Choi, 2020
The magic trick:
Sorting through a life’s mystery using a patient/therapist relationship to find the answers
So it’s not a coincidence that we’ve paired these two stories together this weekend, Jennifer Egan’s “Found Objects” and Susan Choi’s “Flashlight.”
Choi appeared on The New Yorker Fiction Podcast, reading the Egan story and saying that it was a direct influence on her “Flashlight.” Oh, your humble SSMT editor thought, that would make a good weekend combo on the website. So here we are.
The connections are clear in that both stories feature protagonists discussing their lives with therapists. This is certainly no case of plagiarism. They are very different stories with different ideas.
So while they do both include therapists, the quest in “Found Objects” is to figure out why Sasha keeps stealing everyone’s stuff. It’s nearly a polar opposite situation in “Flashlight,” where we know the root of the problem for Louisa. It’s mapped out for us in the opening scene. The quest then is to sort out what affects that experience has had on her life.
And that’s quite a trick on Choi’s part.
“I don’t care. I hate swimming.”
They both know that the opposite is true. Perhaps her father recognizes her comment for what it partly is—a declaration of loyalty to him—as well as for what it mostly is: a declaration by a ten-year-old child who is contentious by reflex, without any reason. Far out over the water, far beyond where the breakwater joins with a thin spit of sand, the sunset has lost all its warmth and is only a paleness against the horizon. They’ll turn back soon.
“I never learned to swim,” her father reveals.
“Why?” This time her tone is surprised, her question genuine.
“Because I grew up a poor boy. I had no Y.M.C.A.”
“The Y.M.C.A. is disgusting. I hate going there.”
“Someday you’ll feel thankful to your mother. But I want you to act thankful now.”
These are the last words he ever says to her.
(Or are they just the last words that she can remember? Did he say something more? There is no one to ask.)
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